If you look at the human body as a machine, it would be safe to assume that for the professional athlete, its maintenance would be of utmost urgency.
For many athletes and weekend warriors, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Charles Virgin, who died at 75 on May 25 after battling bladder cancer, was a master mechanic.
“He loved sports medicine, that was his passion,” said his wife, Dr. Connie Lurie. “He really enjoyed the challenge of the human body as a machine. He had vision that was like three-dimensional. In sports, you see that machine working at full capacity, and you can see the function of each isolated muscle and how all of them work together as a group. He did impossible cases, cases where patients had been limping for years, and he would operate on them, and they would get up and walk.”
Patients included members of the Miami Dolphins, where he was a team physician from 1970 to 1989 — including the perfect season of 1972 — and the team’s chief doctor when his father, Herbert, retired from that role in 1983.
Virgin also served as team physician for the Lipton International Tennis Tournament at Key Biscayne (now the Sony Open) for several years after leaving the Dolphins, and also was with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers soccer team from 1978 to 1981 and Miami Jai-Alai and Dania Jai-Alai from 1974 to 1988. He also was the founding medical director of the Orange Bowl Marathon, where he treated participants from 1977 to 1990.
And his patients included non-pros, too, in his private practice. One was Tori Hames-Picciochi, who held several swimming records in the ’70s at Gulliver and the under-18 Hurricanes Swim Team. Hames-Picciochi blew out her knee while playing Frisbee.
“He repaired my knee in 1989. He was very nice and had a wonderful bedside manner that most doctors today do not possess,” Hames-Picciochi said from her home in Morristown, New Jersey. “He also did a couple of knee surgeries on [my] mom and two surgeries on my sister. Very compassionate.”
That demeanor is part of what attracted his third wife, Lurie, to Virgin when the two met while working at Mercy Hospital in Coconut Grove — she as an anesthesiologist, he as a sports doc.
“He is the kindest person I have ever met,” she said. “He had a great heart and was very warm to his patients, very open. He gave them his cellular phone and the house phone and told them to call any time, day or night. I was a witness to that,” Lurie said with a chuckle.
“He was probably the most decent human being I’ve ever known,” said attorney Douglas Williams, who officiated at the Virgins’ wedding in July 1992 in Key Biscayne. Virgin had three children by his two previous wives: Molly, Edward and Spencer. With Lurie, Virgin had daughters Tiffany and Veronica.
“It would be hard to find anybody who has ever broken a bone or pulled or strained a tendon who hadn’t seen Charlie,” Williams said.
Including Williams, who was busted up pretty good in an accident about three years ago. The details aren’t important, he said, but, “I was more dead than alive. Charlie was there in a heartbeat, standing watch over me,” Williams said. “He never left until he was satisfied. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Virgin was born in Madison, Wisconsin, but joked that he only stayed for five minutes before moving to Miami. He earned his medical degree from Duke University in 1964, served in the Air Force from 1965 to 1970, and joined his father, Herbert, on the Dolphins’ sidelines. Both were avid sailors and members of Coral Reef Yacht Club in Coconut Grove.
“When he was with the Dolphins, Coach [Don] Shula wanted to get the athletes to return to competition ASAP. Many times both Coach Shula and Herbert disagreed as to when the player was to return to play. Charles would intercede between the two, giving sound advice to the two of them, and more important, to provide some common sense to the mix,” said Bill Norris in an email. Norris was head trainer of the Association of Tennis Professionals during the Lipton tournaments on Key Biscayne.
Virgin is survived by his wife and children and sister Betsey Owen. A memorial service will be held on Aug. 2 at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Key Biscayne.